The Hillsboro boys’ basketball team was down two points, 44-42, with 28.3 seconds left in the game Friday against Haven.
Evan Ollenburger earned a trip to the free-throw line following a Jesse Brown steal. His first free throw hit the back of the rim, then the front of the rim, before falling to the hardwood.
This is the way the Trojans lost games this season. Of Hillsboro’s nine losses, six were by a one-possession margin. They lost Friday, 44-43.
“It was another one of those close games that could have easily gone the other way,” head coach Darrel Knoll said.
Ollenburger hit his second free throw and the Trojans still had another opportunity. Haven forward Luke Johnson airballed his free throw following a Josh Wiebe foul.
The Trojans had the ball with 15.9 seconds left. The ball kicked around the perimeter finding Ollenburger at the top of the key. There was a miscommunication between Ollenburger and point guard Brett Weinbrenner. Weinbrenner took a step forward to cut and the pass sailed over his head out of bounds.
“We wouldn’t have been game without the work Evan did,” Knoll said. “I hope he doesn’t end the season thinking about those plays.”
The Trojans still had one more opportunity. Haven forward Jacob Newcomer missed a free throw off the right side of the rim. Ollenburger secured the rebound along the left sideline with 4.2 seconds left, but he could only get as close as half court to force up a last shot attempt.
More disappointing for Hillsboro is that the Trojans had control of the game in the fourth quarter. Following a layup and a corner 3-pointer from Shaq Thiessen, Hillsboro led 41-35 to start the final period.
Haven tied the game at 42 with 3 minutes, 31 seconds with three possessions. Johnson hit a put back layup following an offensive rebound. Then Jedidiah Beachy hit three free throws following a Jesse Brown foul at the top of the key. Beachy then hit a layup on a backdoor cut right past Thiessen along the baseline.
The Wildcats took the lead on another backdoor cut layup by Cody Crabtree.
“We knew we needed four solid quarters,” Knoll said. “We played hard enough to win.”
Although the Trojans’ defense faltered in the fourth quarter, it was a strong man-to-man effort that allowed Hillsboro to get back into the game in the second quarter.
Haven led 20-8 heading into the second period. Ollenburger drew charges on back-to-back possessions to buoy a 12-2 Hillsboro run to start the quarter. Weinbrenner, Thiessen, and Jesse Brown had steals during the run. Weinbrenner and Harry Faber hit 3-pointers. Suddenly the Trojans were within two, 22-20 with 3:25 left in the quarter.
Ollenburger knocked down a trey from the top of the key, with an assist from Weinbrenner driving into Haven’s 1-3-1 zone, as time expired in the second quarter to put Hillsboro within one point, 26-25. The Trojans outscored Haven 17-6 in the second quarter.
“We played with a lot of resolve,” Knoll said.
With seven points from Thiessen, they came out and outscored the Wildcats 16-9 in the third quarter.
While Johnson was Haven’s leading scorer with 15 points, he scored 6 points in the first quarter. He was held in check by Josh Wiebe, Harry Faber, and a litany of willing help defenders in the remaining three periods. Johnson shot 7-for-11 from the field. Beachy was the next highest scorer for Haven with eight points, shooting two-for-eight.
Thiessen was the high scorer for Hillsboro with 11 points. Harry Faber followed him with 10 points on four-of-eight shooting from the field. Weinbrenner was next with nine points.
Weinbrenner and Thiessen each had three steals in the game. Weinbrenner had five assists. Brown had two steals.
“He played with a lot of energy; he anticipated well,” Knoll said of Brown. “I’m pleased with the way Jesse improved this year. He made himself into a solid varsity player.”
In the Trojans’ fourth matchup with Lyons this season on Thursday in sub-state play, the Hillsboro boys’ recorded their third win, 49-38.
Thiessen had one of his better 3-point shooting games coming off the bench for Hillsboro. He had 13 points, hitting three-of-six from downtown. Thiessen’s most crucial contribution came in a seven-point third quarter performance including two treys and a long two-point shot from the wing.
“He found his stroke early, even in warm-ups. He was shooting with confidence,” Wiebe said. “And he was taking good shots.”
Thiessen’s scoring was the difference in a seven-point Hillsboro lead after the third quarter, 35-28. Lyons took the lead for the first time in the game before halftime with a Matthew Vincent buzzer beater from half court.
“We shut them down early,” Wiebe said. “They were lucky to be up at half.”
Familiarity was in Hillsboro’s favor on Thursday. The Trojans had established matchups that were proven against the Lyons. Wiebe’s responsibility was guarding Lyons’ forward Grady Kirkhardt. Kirkhardt had scored double digits in every other meeting with Hillsboro this season; he scored four points on Thursday, shooting one-for-six from the field.
Wiebe said the key was eliminating Kirkhardt short corner drives. The Lyons’ forward has the habit of catching the ball between the 3-point arc and the block along the baseline, facing up, and taking the ball to the hole. He also said that backside help from Faber and point guard Weinbrenner was important in the defensive effort.
At the other end of the floor, the Trojans opened up shooting opportunities facing Lyons’ 2-3 zone by passing the ball into Harry Faber or Wiebe. It was that player’s option to kick to shooters on the wing, shoot, or try to move the ball down to the block for a cutting forward.
“The side was really open,” Wiebe said. “They collapsed so hard.”
Faber also scored 13 points, shooting six-for-nine from the field. Weinbrenner led the team in scoring with 15 points, icing the game with six-for-six shooting from the free-throw line.